By Kiet Do

MOUNTAIN VIEW (KPIX 5) — Environmentalists are blaming a decrease in native burrowing owls near Google’s Mountain View headquarters on feral cats being cared for and fed regularly by Google employees.

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The feral cats, perhaps a dozen or more, can be seen roaming the owls’ habitat directly across the street from the Google campus.

A few years ago, there used to be nearly two dozen burrowing owls at the site but there wasn’t a single one seen out here today, and environmentalists think they know why.

“A lot of scientific study has been done that these non-native animals, these cats that we love as pets, are also killers,” said environmental activist Eileen McLaughlin.

The feral cats can be identified by the notches on their ears, which means it is the likely work of GCat Rescue, a volunteer group of about a half dozen Google employees who find home for strays cats, adopting out 148 so far.

The group also traps, neuters and returns other feral cats to the wild and maintain four cat-feeding stations in and around the Google campus, complete with swinging doors, and plenty of kibble and water.

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The stations feature the Gcat logo, and uses a company email address:

McLaughlin noted the feeding stations are just several hundred yards away from the owl’s nesting grounds. She says she has been encouraging Google for years to eliminate the feeding stations and find another home for the cats.

“To have a company, through its employees, supporting a process that is maintaining a colony of little predators, whether they go after the owls or the songbirds, or mice, they’re here. And they don’t have to be,” said McLaughlin.

Shani Kleinhaus with the Silicon Valley Audubon Society says development by humans is mostly to blame for the decline in owls, but having cats nearby doesn’t help. “The breeding population is on the brink of disappearing forever from our landscape,” said Kleinhaus.

Given Google’s recent work to preserve egrets on its campus, along with its preservation efforts near Moffett Field, Kleinhaus thinks Google will do the right thing.

“I think there are solutions,” said Kleinhaus. “It needs work, but I think Google will be willing to work with conservationists to come to a good resolution.”

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Google told KPIX 5 it is studying the issue and will make a decision in the near future.